Scotland’s political leaders hurtled into the final few days of the Holyrood campaign yesterday as polls suggested SNP chances of securing an overall majority were on a knife-edge.
Polling expert Sir John Curtice said: “Polling released in the course of the last week has tended to suggest there has been a bit of a diminution in SNP support in the constituencies.
“With support of 48% to 50% of the vote, they have a reasonable chance of an overall majority, but with 45% to 47%, which is where the polls have been putting them at recently, then those chances begin to diminish.
“If you had asked me at the beginning of the campaign what are the SNP’s chances of getting an overall majority, I would have said 50-50. They’re now closer to the 30% mark.”
He added: “Although the SNP are probably not reliant on the list vote in most of Scotland, if they lose 2% or 3% to Alba in the south of Scotland and the Highlands, it could make a difference to whether they get a list seat, and that could just make a difference to whether they get 65 of Holyrood’s 129 seats.”
Sturgeon has said she wants an independence referendum in the early part of the new parliament once the country is out of the pandemic but, Curtice suggests, if she doesn’t win a simple, outright majority for the SNP and a clear-cut mandate, she might be under pressure internally to push harder for a referendum.
Curtice said: “The reason there was a referendum in 2014 was because the SNP won a majority on their own in 2011 and in the wake of that David Cameron said they had the moral right to hold a referendum.
“On the one hand, the UK Government may feel emboldened to say no if there is not an SNP majority. But, on the other hand, because Sturgeon’s position will probably be weakened vis-à-vis her own party, she will have less room for manoeuvre.
“Sturgeon would probably have to be seen to be pursuing this perhaps more strongly than might otherwise be the case. The constitutional clash may come sooner rather than later if there is not an SNP majority.”
If Nicola Sturgeon fails to win most of the seats in the Scottish Parliament, opponents would claim her mandate for a second independence referendum would be undermined.
The First Minister, who was campaigning at a farmers’ market in Perth yesterday, said there was “light at the end of the tunnel” after the sacrifices to save lives and protect the NHS, adding: “The SNP is the only party with a clear plan to support the NHS, protect jobs, help our young people get on, and build a better future for Scotland. And I am the only candidate for First Minister offering tried and tested leadership to guide us through the crisis and into recovery.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was in Inverness to launch his party’s recovery plan for the Highlands and Islands.
Measures in the recovery plan include a jobs and training guarantee for young people, support for hospitality, retail and tourism businesses and a staycation scheme to promote Scottish tourism with a “third night free” subsidy.
He said: “The sectors hit hardest by Covid, such as hospitality and tourism, are the backbone of the rural economy, while Brexit has wreaked havoc with business for fisheries and food producers.
“The Highlands and Islands cannot afford another five years of bickering about the same old arguments. The next parliament needs to be focused on rebuilding the economy and communities after Covid.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was on the campaign trail with the party’s Renfrewshire South candidate Derek Stillie, a former Aberdeen, Dunfermline and Dundee United goalkeeper.
Ross said: “This is our chance to show another referendum the red card. If we take the SNP’s obsession off the pitch, we can get all of the focus onto rebuilding Scotland.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie visited the racetrack at Ingliston In Edinburgh for the last lap of the election campaign.
He said: “The Liberal Democrats have gained seats in the last four elections in Scotland. We are the only party that can say that. Our gains this time will make the difference.
“The gains that Liberal Democrats make next Thursday will change the balance of the parliament, take the referendum off the table for five years and put the recovery first.”
The Scottish Greens pledged to strengthen protections for wildlife, warning that, with one in nine species at risk, Scotland is in a “nature emergency”.
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “It’s time we took protection of our wildlife seriously before it’s too late.
“The Scottish Greens will reform wildlife law, so that, when a species or important habitat is designated as protected, they really are protected, we will ensure tackling wildlife crime is prioritised and resourced, and we will invest £895 million in restoring the natural environment and creating rural green jobs across the country.
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